From Our Guest Bloggers ask roulette, housing works, Librarians, Library School, Siân Evans, tumblarians
Like a lot of librarians, I came to librarianship as a second career. Actually, it was more like a first career but umpteenth job-kind-of-thing-I-did-to-make-money. Suddenly, I found myself marketing financial newsletters by day and reading about MODS, MARC, XML and a million other acronyms after library school classes at night. I’d often fall asleep on my couch with a bowl of Cheerios for dinner, too tired to cook. Sometimes in lieu of studying I’d watch reruns of Ally McBeal and wonder, “How did I get here?” Or, “What does this degree really mean to me?”
A few months ago, I was at Housing Works Bookstore for an instance of Ask Roulette, “an unscripted conversation in which participants ask and answer questions of each other in front of a live audience.” I was called up to answer the question from Julieanne Smolinski, “If you were the subject of a Ken Burns documentary, what would the third disc be called and why?” My answer: “Why not to go to grad school… Twice.”
As usual, I was being a bit facetious, but if I were to be critical of my two graduate degrees, I would argue that my first (art history) was plenty intellectually engaging and inspired critical thinking, but was not in any way practical. Hence, the financial newsletter marketing post-degree. My second master’s, an MSLIS, focused on the very real and practical concerns of metadata creation, accessibility, collection development, reference, and instruction. In other words, it felt primarily like a vocational degree. However, I found myself wondering if we were thinking about the subtle ways in which our reference and instruction, our metadata creation, and even our scholarship (often despite our best efforts) help reinforce mainstream narratives, often ignoring counter-narratives. This is an issue that came up for me again, a few years later, when working with the Occupy Wall Street Archives Working Group to archive the digital and physical content produced by activists and occupiers during the Occupy movement. Having to answer activists’ questions about the (assumed) neutrality of archives and archivists, as well as the role of public and private institutions in providing access to archival materials sent me to the writings of critical archivists like Verne Harris, Joan M. Schwartz, and Terry Cook, and excellent publications like Archivaria. In this process, I found myself dredging up some of the critiques I had about my education as a librarian. And so I posed this question to my fellow tumblarians last week:
Archivists like Verne Harris have argued that the field of archival science is haunted by the specter of 19th century Positivism, or the belief that archives and information science represent some ‘truth.’ Similarly, Félix Guattari has argued that the social sciences are plagued by an ‘outmoded ideal of scientificity.’
So, here’s my question: do you feel like concepts like ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ were dealt with critically in library school? Do you think, in our training, we are taught to think critically about our vocation, about our role in not only recording but also shaping culture?
what learning an mlis is really like (source: http://libraryschoolcrazy.tumblr.com/post/48827636997/what-earning-an-mlis-is-really-like)
The answers — from public librarians, academic librarians, and library students alike — ran the gamut. Some folks felt that these issues were dealt with in their programs. The majority, however, argued that critical pedagogy is woefully absent from most library science programs, that we are taught how to provide access to information to patrons, but not what it means to do so (other than “helping people is what we do, it’s good!”). One commenter noted that critical theory was markedly absent from library science coursework.
My own experience of library school was, of course, mixed. I had some amazing professors who assigned us Guattari and forced us to think critically about the politics of preserving and providing access to information. I also took some courses in which I wanted to throw the text book against the wall on numerous occasions. I often found myself wondering, is this a degree with an identity crisis? Is it vocational or academic? Or both? Can it be both? Obviously there’s plenty of technical stuff to learn in library school: we need to understand how metadata operates, we need to know how to catalog, and so on. Besides, we’re not training to be PhDs in cultural theory. However, in focusing on the nuts and bolts, are we missing the bigger picture? Are we not considering the implications of these very nuts and bolts and the ways in which they are shaped by a particular (Western capitalist) culture? In creating ontologies, for example, are we not thinking about how this actually shapes the way people find things, creating a sense of objective reality? In other words, do we perpetuate a Positivist view of the world that assumes the universe is governed by natural laws, therefore implying an objective reality that is “knowable”?
Of course, if you go searching, the aspiring librarian can relatively easily find forums for discussion about critical pedagogy and alternative access models in the fields of library, information and archival science — in publications, in websites and social forums, in conference presentations, and in the blogosphere. But, does this type of inquiry need to be formalized in our education? Are we doing it wrong by avoiding these more critical, academic questions in favor of practical concerns?
Personally, I would answer “yes.” I came into librarianship because I think access to information is critical, but that we need to be critical of the information provided us. Now, I’m not suggesting we ditch the vocational aspect of the degree. Nor do I think this is the only update to the MLIS that is necessary (marketing ourselves, anyone?). But I do think these issues get at the heart of what we do and, in my experience, we need to be able to think critically about them in order to address questions that inevitably come up in the real world. In library school, I often felt pretty alone in wanting to ask these kinds of questions, wanting a community I eventually had to seek elsewhere. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one. It’s awful lonely in the back of the classroom, can we talk about this?
From Our Guest Bloggers advocacy, ebooks, Librarians, Libraries, Library School
I am Erin Lee Barsan, your guest blogger for the month and I am currently in my second semester of library school. I’m ashamed to admit that I have not had a lifelong love affair with books, nor do I have many fond memories of visiting the library as a child (although I am definitely making up for lost time now). My background is in design and photography, and I came into this field with the intention of focusing my graduate studies almost exclusively on archives. The thought of being a bona fide librarian had never crossed my mind…until now. The more I read and the more classes I attend, the more I am realizing the incredible and diverse opportunities that this field has to offer. My world has been turned upside down over these past few months, and I look forward to sharing some of my experiences and discoveries with you all over the following weeks.
Photo courtesy of goodereader.com.
The other day a colleague emailed this article to me from The Atlantic Cities, “The Future of Librarians in an EBook World.” Upon reading the title, I fought the urge to immediately roll my eyes. I may be new to the profession, but I am already tired of listening to the debate over the future impact of EBooks (e.g., “In 10 years no one is going to be reading physical books!” “Au contraire, EBooks are to us now what VHS Tapes were to the 80′s!”). Regardless, I gave the article a chance and was pleasantly surprised by the author’s perspective. Instead of attempting to predict the future, we are presented with interesting ways in which libraries are gaining funding to use technology while still remaining patron-centric. For instance, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is investing in a concierge-like reader’s advisory program in Oregon that seeks to build long-term relationships between librarians and patrons.
One of the things I’ve become accustomed to hearing since entering library school is how the job market is practically hopeless and how technology and the internet have played a large part in this, but I cannot just accept that it is so simple. At one point in the article the author states, “All the technological bells and whistles a library can employ are pretty much worthless if there’s no one minding the store.” As information professionals we must be advocates for the importance of our careers and think creatively about how technology can contribute to our work instead of how it can endanger it. Although I am sure not all of the projects discussed in this article will end up being successful, they will hopefully pave the way for more innovative initiatives in the future.
From Our Guest Bloggers archives, Education, Internships, Librarians, Libraries, Work
I’ve been grappling a lot with this question lately, because there’s been some talk in the press about the exploitative nature of internships, and how they are used as a substitute for hiring real employees. I’m also of the mind that the internship system favors those who can afford to work for free – and thereby makes it much more difficult for students from less privileged backgrounds to move ahead. That said, while in school I was able to intern at a number of institutions, and the exposure was instrumental in shaping the archivist I have become. I worked with a variety of collections, and from each I learned how to meet the specific needs of the materials, as well as determine the kinds of collections I would like to work with in the future. Not to mention that my current job started as an internship – albeit a paid one.
Payday at the Navy Yard, Courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
No company wants to appear immoral, which I do understand is a little different than a company that acts morally. A recent piece in the Atlantic argues that even if the relationship between organization and intern is mutually beneficial, it doesn’t mean it should be legal. The example they give to demonstrate this point is of a 17 year-old requesting a shot of vodka from a bartender in exchange for money. Although both parties “benefit” from the transaction, we as a society have decided that this should be illegal based on the larger consequences that come with this kind of action. I ask you, is an internship really akin to underage drinking? Does a 17 year-old benefit from a vodka shot, or are they merely gratified?
Sweatshop or apprenticeship? Courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
When I was interning I intentionally chose organizations that offered the kinds of experiences I knew I would need once I entered the workforce. Some have said that the work given to interns should not overlap with the work of regular employees. The fact that my tasks overlapped with the paid professionals I was working with was all the better in my opinion. What good is working for free if all you are asked to do is fetch coffee and change the toner? I think that rather than focusing on the freeness of internships more attention needs to be paid to the kind of work one is offered in exchange for their free labor.
Lunchtime! Courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
Of course, this does little to close the gap between privileged students, and those that are less so. Clearly we do need some sort of regulation that ensures companies that have the means to pay their interns do just that. Still, in the job challenged post 2008 world there are extremely good arguments for being and bringing on an intern. I can say from personal experience that for the former it offers so much more than a hangover the next day.
From Our Guest Bloggers cataloging, ebooks, Librarians, Libraries, linked data, metadata, scholarly communication, technology
I was surprised (and pleased) to get so much feedback on my post about the future of libraries and the skills and mindset new librarians should be cultivating. I wrote that post as a way to prepare soon-to-be-degreed librarians for the profession, but a lot of commenters pointed out that current librarians might need to hear that message even more. And they’re right. I think my plea for engaged, creative librarians is motivated largely by my fears about how slow-moving the library world has been in the last decade or two.
When I meet library school students, and current librarians, who seem disinterested in learning about library technologies, or who are skeptical about the value of social networking, the semantic web, smart phones, and e-books, I fear for the future of our profession. We are already playing catch-up in so many areas, and we just can’t afford to continue to waffle in the face of technological change.
I wanted to follow up a bit with some more specifics about what kind of technologies new librarians should be familiar with, or at least know a little something about. These are the things that I think could have a massive positive impact for libraries, if (and when?) we figure out how to implement them.
Maybe I’m just influenced by my current research, but I think linked data could have a huge impact on how libraries manage bibliographic records and catalogs. Right now we’re all doing this ridiculous thing wherein we each buy a copy of some very expensive software, and we copy records into our own personal database, so that bibliographic metadata is duplicated over and over and over again in thousands of different places. I think this is silly, and frankly, leads to poorly managed metadata, and way too much overhead in terms of librarian labor. There is big potential for significant change in the way we manage our metadata, but we need people who understand the benefits and the costs, and who are willing to take a chance on something new. Want to know more? Check out W3C Library Linked Data Incubator Group, and the LODLAM blog. There are some really terrific articles on library linked data, if you have access to a database like LISTA. I highly recommend this article, “The Cataloger’s Revenge: Unleashing the Semantic Web,” by Virginia Schlling, for a good overview.
Another significant thing to start paying attention to are changes in scholarly publishing models, especially if you’re interested in academic librarianship. Due to recent changes to requirements for NSF grants, faculty have to start paying a lot more attention to data management, access, and preservation, and libraries are starting to play a huge role here. Researchers in all fields, even the humanities, are going to start generating more and more data, and we can help them manage it. A lot of people are interested in changing scholarly communication models, and libraries can be significant players, but we have to get involved in the conversation. And we have to be knowledgeable about research practices, digital archiving practices, and the technology that can be provide access to research produced by our universities.
It’s become pretty clear that ebooks are here to stay, and that reading is going to shifting more and more into the digital sphere. We have to be ready for that, and we should be working tirelessly to ensure that we aren’t excluded from the publishing and reading spheres. Learn about digitization initiatives like HathiTrust and the Google Books Project, stay up to date on current lending practices for ebooks, and be aware of challenges, both technological and legal, and potential solutions. You might love the smell of books, and hope that your print collections will continue to draw patrons, but you can’t pretend ebooks don’t exist. If you don’t already have some kind of ebook reader, you should. Kindle apps are free! At the very least, you should have some real experience with digital reading practices, because more and more of your patrons will.
There are some very exciting changes on the horizon for libraries, but we have long had a tendency to bury our heads in the sand and continue doing things the same way, because it’s what we know, because we’re intimidated by the scope of change needed and we don’t think we have the money or time to do what has to be done. But the longer we wait, the harder those changes are going to be.
I’m going to step off my soap box now. I’m heartened to hear from so many young librarians (and I’m not talking about age here) who are enthusiastic about the challenges ahead. Good luck to all of you in your job searches and in your sure-to-be-exciting careers in library land. Hopefully I’ll meet some of you at future conferences and library events: Library land is a small place, after all.
From Our Guest Bloggers Librarians, origins
Hi, everyone! I’m Karen, and I’m the librarian for Ancient & Medieval History and Religion at Columbia University, where I’m also the Graphic Novels librarian. Thanks so much to the Desk Set for giving me a shot at their bully pulpit! I figured I’d take this first opportunity to talk about how I became a librarian. It was a slow and circuitous process. So hold on: this is a long ride.
Librarianship must have been on my mind, actually, from a very early point. I have a copy of A Child’s Geography of the World in which I’d glued a rudimentary book-pocket when I was about nine years old, in some sort of simulacrum of library procedure (not sure who I thought was checking it out). And I had a scholarly bent: when I was in 3rd grade and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “I’m going to be a Greek mythologist!” which was a nod to my obsession with D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which eventually gave way to Bulfinch’s Mythology.
Our family moved east, from southern Michigan to northern New Jersey, when I was ten years old, and one of the attractions my mother used to tempt me was The Cloisters. I fell in love with the place on sight. When I got older, unhappily attending high school in Fort Lee NJ, I would cut class, walk across the George Washington Bridge, and take the M4 bus up to the Cloisters, to sit and luxuriate in medieval monastic splendor and the wafting harmonies of piped-in Gregorian chant. I did that pretty often, actually. I really hated high school and did all that I could to avoid going to classes; I even graduated a year early–thanks to summer school–so I wouldn’t have to spend a fourth year there.
Librarian in the Spotlight agriculture, Librarians, sustainability
By Julia Weist
When Ken Greene was a public librarian in Gardiner, New York, he had the radical, sustainable notion to add seeds to the library catalog. The idea was simple: community members could check out seeds, grow them into plants, harvest seeds from what they grew, return the new seeds to the library for the next patron to use. Four years after putting this plan into action, he went independent, starting a business called the Hudson Valley Seed Library with co-founder Doug Muller. Ken agreed to answer some of my questions in the few spare moments between taking care of the farm, processing seeds, and packing and filling orders.
Can you described how you transitioned from being a public librarian to a seed librarian?
Ken Greene (right) and Doug Muller (left)
My background and masters is in Special Education. I started working at the Gardiner Library, which is a town library, part time while finishing my masters. It’s a very small and very active library. I ran kids and adult programs, did grant writing, developed the children’s and teen collections, and did all the other regular library tasks like shelving, weeding, checking in/out etc. When I was ready to start looking for a teaching position, they offered me a full time job. I loved it there and decided to stay. I was feeling very inspired by the possibilities of what a library can mean to a community and realizing for the first time that public libraries are radical and truly democratic institutions. At the same time my garden was growing bigger each year. I was doing a lot of reading (abusing the inter-library loan system to no end) on gardening, agriculture, and food politics and learning about the loss of genetic diversity and due to consolidation of seed resources by multinational biotech corporations. That inspired me to learn how to save seeds and share them with others. I added seeds to the library catalog. People could check out seeds, grow them in their garden, save seeds from the plants they grew, and return them to the library. In addition to creating a source of locally adapted seeds, I felt that, in the spirit of a library, the program was also preserving the stories of the seeds- both genetic and cultural.
Why are you drawn to heirloom plants, biodiversity and sustainable farming?
Neither Doug nor I have agricultural backgrounds although we both had dreams of farming. We both believe that farming is cultural (it’s called agriculture after all) and that caring for the earth, sharing resources, and access to food and seeds for all is an integral part of what it means to be practicing sustainable agriculture.
An image of the Hudson Valley Seed Library farm
How many members does the library have and what classification system, if any, do you use to organize your collection?
We’re up to 700 members and many more buy seeds from the catalog without a membership. We’re still working out how to help more members return seeds. We do not have a very high return rate as of yet. (There’s no penalty for not saving seeds, but there are incentives.) Right now everything is organized in long cardboard trays in a walk in cooler. We keep track of returned seeds with name of member, date returned, and also collect information about the plant, how it was grown, conditions etc.
What are your goals for the future?
Our main goal is to offer 100% locally grown seed from small farms and gardeners–this will take building a network of seed growers in NY. We also hope to create a mobile seed processing system. This is in the design phase right now. It’s called Seeds on Wheels (S.O.W.) and part of the design is currently on display at the Samuel Dorsky Museum.
We have two upcoming events. Our gallery show (Pack Art 2011) which is an exhibit of the original artwork for this year’s Art Packs will be at the Kingston Museum of Contemporary Art in November and at the Horticultural Society of New York in December (more info here). We’ll also be at the New Amsterdam Market every week and the Brooklyn Flea every week, on Sundays.
Art Packs: seeds in packaging designed by artists in the greater New York region
Do you know a unique librarian or archivist? Nominations are welcome for future Librarian in the Spotlight features! Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Desk Set Sponsored Events, Dispatches from the Editors Books Through Bars, Brooklyn, Dance Dance Library Revolution, Dance Party, enid's, Librarians
Here it is Kids, your official notification about the Desk Set’s next and best dance party and benefit for Books Through Bars:
The return of Dance Dance Library Revolution
Your chance to GIVE a paperback dictionary or thesaurus, GET a complimentary drink courtesy of Enid’s, DANCE your tail off, and WIN amazing prizes in the Four-Eyes Raffle.
The party is free, and it’s a community-based labor of love in memory of our friend Carlos Alvarez, who passed away last summer. A passionate believer in prisoners’ rights and access to information, Carlos had hoped to DJ the next DDLR. In his stead, DJs Mr. Jonathan Toubin from New York Night Train, Fine Wine from WFMU, Megan Awesome, Jimmy T, and Jason Andrews are spinning all night long, and donating their fees to the Books Through Bars cause in Carlos’s name.
- What: DDLR, dance party and benefit for Books Through Bars
- Where: Enid’s Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn
- When: Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 10PM – 4AM
- Why: To collect dictionaries and raise badly needed funds for Books Through Bars, a grassroots org working tirelessly to provide incarcerated individuals with literacy and literature. And to spread some library love!
- Who: Librarians, archivists, bibliophiles, the bookish general public, and those who like to dance with them.
- With your hosts: Maria Falgoust, Sarah Murphy, and the Desk Set Gang
- How you can help: Show up at the party, and tell all your friends! Become a DDLR volunteer. We’re looking for decorators, crafters, party promoters, raffle tickets sellers, and more! Write to us at thedesksetATgmailDOTcom if you’re interested in helping.
Desk Set Sponsored Events a.p. tureaud, book drive, Daddy's bar, enid's, great jones, Librarians, mardi gras, matt fiveash, Steve McGuirl, streb trapeze, the walkmen
Laissez les bons temps rouler
Celebrate Fat Tuesday with The Desk Set:
February 16th, 2010
Amazing DJs Steven McGuirl & Matt Fiveash spin greasy Louisiana R&B and Cajun Jumpers all night long! Free.
Our goal is to collect 840 books for the A.P. Tureaud in New Orleans. 99 books have been purchased so far. Why 840 you might say? Because the teachers need a copy for every student in each classroom. If you can’t make the party, you can still donate through the amazon wish list: http://amzn.com/w/2YWW46OZ56653
The Who Dat Raffle: Pair of tickets to a secret The Walkmen show at the Bell House, a $100 gift certificate to the amazing Naw’lins style restaurant, The Great Jones Cafe, a $100 gift certificate to Enid’s, a $50 gift certificate to Daddy’s & 2 Trapeze Lessons at Espana Streb Trapeze Academy, a portraitÂ by Mexican artist Emilio Canton Ruz & a customized book bundle from Random House! You do not need to be present to win. Raffle is open 7:30 – Midnight. $2 for i ticket, $5 for 5 tickets or $10 for 15 tickets.
The Run Down
Where: Daddy’s, 437 Graham, near Frost, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
When: Tuesday, Feb. 16th, 7:30 – late
What: party/fund-raiser to buy books for the students at the A.P. Tureaud school in NOLA, featuring DJs spinning music recorded exclusively in the state of Louisiana, hurricane cocktails, Abita beer, King cake, librarians, homemade sweets, throws, and more!
Why: Because we want to party like The Rebirth Brass Band
Plus don’t forget: if you give us a little cash to buy a book for the kids at the A.P. Tureaud school in NOLA, we’ll give you a pint of Blue Point. It’s sweet to be giving, ya’ll.
From Our Guest Bloggers awful library books, Beverly Massachusetts, Beverly Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, children's librarians, Librarians, Libraries, library management
by Emily Nichols
Librarians would leave Brooklyn, usually to go back to go back to their home state, and those left behind would wonder briefly what their lives were like now, and imagine they were easier and more dull and lonely. When my turn came, I bought a baby blue linen dress with pink buttons from a boutique in Park Slope that was (I imagined) suitable for a small town New England children’s librarian. The drama of my interview was heightened arriving at the Beverly Depot, which was featured in the David Mamet movie State and Main. The Beverly Public Library was designed by Cass Gilbert (he also designed the Woolworth Building) and it has an impressive beaux arts facade. My heels echoed loudly on the marble floor.
Beverly Public Library from the town common
For those readers who are considering a change (maybe not this year, but if/when the job market opens up) I can say it was the best possible thing for me, and I often day dream about not having done it. The transition from Brooklyn to Beverly was not easy and not dull.
What initially attracted me to my current job as Head of Children’s Services in Beverly was having a desk, phone, computer, office, and department that were all mine. In Brooklyn I was managing the school age services for something called a Cluster, a group of five branches that were adjacent on the map but had little in common besides an overwhelming need for library services. In my cluster were both Brooklyn Heights (next to St. Ann’s School and Borough Hall) and Red Hook (next to the projects with their million dollar blocks.) Managing staff and services in five locations when you weren’t any one’s direct supervisor was a daily challenge.
In Beverly I can be constant and responsible within the powerful framework of children’s librarianship. I choose books, I choose staff, I make the schedules and I select, present or delegate programs. It helps that my entire staff is more experienced and organized than I am, except the eager, thoughtful and creative teen-aged pages. The community seems to agree on what it wants from the library and is involved in fund-raising, special events, and the daily work of the library. Every year the public librarians meet with the school librarians to write the summer reading list that is used throughout the city.
favorite weeded books
Having a computer and a desk and ordering powers has made me a better librarian because I take the time to keep up with literature and reviews in a way I didn’t in Brooklyn, where programming and weeding and going to meetings were my main responsibilities. Unfortunately I also obsessively read Chowhound and mourn my lost lunch options. Lucky for me, Massachusetts is close enough that I can get to Roberta‘s when I have an uncontrollable craving.
Having a fresh start has given me what I said I wanted: more professional experience in a different setting, a desk, a closer relationship with my family and old friends. It has also given me some things I didn’t dream of: enough sleep, a new understanding of and respect for my chosen career, and a consistent writing practice through my blog.
where I walk the dog
Thank you for reading my posts this month and thanks to Maria and Sarah for sharing their space. If they ask you to do anything, say yes.
From Our Guest Bloggers, Programs of Interest 826NYC, Brooklyn Public Library, Dave Eggers, Librarians, Libraries, tutoring, Williamsburg
Image courtesy of 826NYC
The best kept secret of the Brooklyn Public Library is in the basement of the Williamsburg Branch, perched over the BQE near the projects and the JMZ train. In 2006 a Superheroes’ Union Meeting Hall decorated with posters gently poking fun at the rules and regulations of working within BPL (Looking to hire a sidekick? Don’t forget to fill out form 137X!) opened in a formerly vacant suite of three rooms in the renovated Carnegie building. The center is run by 826NYC and staffed by volunteers who provide completely free after school tutoring for children aged 6-18 during the school year.
Thirty-four percent of Brooklyn children live below the poverty line. Forty-six percent of Brooklyn residents speak English as their second language. There are so many kids in need of, well, everything, and there is a library within half a mile of of all citizens, so theoretically you can reach most of these children through existing library spaces. Rapidly gentrifying Williamsburg was selected partly because there is a significant population of creative professionals and college students in the gentrifying neighborhood to tap as volunteers. Neighborhood libraries often host one or two after school homework helpers but overburdened public librarians have a hard time supporting and retaining volunteers along with their many other duties. The tutoring center used all the resources already within the borough and the building- a safe meeting place, research materials, the kids who already hang out there, and the adults who want to help.
In one of my many many lucky breaks, I was working as a children’s librarian at the Williamsburg branch when 826 and BPL partnered to open the tutoring center. I took over as project manager partway through the planning stages- translating between the tiny nonprofit (four staff people) and the huge Library system which has a different department for every function: Finance, Volunteers, Buildings, Marketing, Grants, Events. My part was quite small, but it is easily the project of which I am most proud.
“If even one child goes to college because of this, all the time and stress is worth it.” said Gary Shaffer, a former BPL librarian who started the partnership by approaching 826 founder Dave Eggers at The New Yorker Festival. I agree. A scrappy nonprofit with extremely high profile talent behind it can move in ways that a 60 location institution just can’t- so the relationship between the two was symbiotic. Although 826 may have thought we moved slowly, the space makeover and opening took barely eight months and $16K. This is unheard-of speed and thrift for a project in a public institution.
In my dreams, every library in every neighborhood and town has a writing/tutoring center with original art by Marcel Dzama and a dedicated rotating group of community volunteers personally invested in the success of all children. If we could use the drive and inventiveness of 826 and combine it with the dedication and resources of our existing public libraries and librarians, our libraries would be more nimble, creative, community driven, and focused.
If you know anyone who is considering a library or teaching career or who simply wants to get to know their neighborhood in a new way, please suggest that they volunteer with 826NYC or their local library.